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Oprah: And your next project is education?

Bette: Education reform.

Oprah: That is such a big job!

Bette: It's a quagmire. Maybe I'll just dip my toe in. I don't want to make any pronouncements.

Oprah: Do you have any role models?

Bette: One of my first role models was Eugene Lang, a wealthy businessman who went back to his elementary school in East Harlem and addressed the sixth-grade class. He looked out at that sea of faces and said, "If any of you wants to go to college, I will pay for it." When I read that, I burst into tears. It was so generous and so basic. Not fluffy. I can't understand why we scrimp on education and shortchange our kids. Why would the citizenry do that to the people who are going to inherit its republic?

Oprah: I'm baffled by that, too. If one of our young people today wanted to become a Divine Miss M or an Ethel Barrymore, what would it take to make it happen? There are so many images out there—how would such a person even get noticed?

Bette: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are doing pretty well at getting noticed— a lot of people are doing pretty well at it. But you wonder whether they'll last, because many of them don't have the ability to get an audience to love them. You say, "That's a fabulous body" or "I like that song"; you don't say, "I love them because I know them." You can't know them.

Oprah: Yes.

Bette: It's a different world now: Stars come and go quickly, and there are so many of them. I read a statistic that all the record companies combined used to put out around 3,000 albums in a year. Now they put out something like 30,000!

Oprah: So it's harder to make it big these days?

Bette: Much harder. You have to be very young, and you must have a really good body. Do you have to have talent? I don't know. Image is everything, and the voice or the idea or the song is hardly anything at all. Half the time the person isn't even doing the singing. I'm a bit cynical about this business. If you were to ask people who are starting out if they feel they have a shot, they'd probably have a happier outlook than I do.

Oprah: A lot of people see you, Bette Midler, as the Divine Miss M.

Bette: Please! I wish I were her!

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